HOW ‘BOUT THOSE BEARS!
Heading into the bye week, fans in and around Chicago have every right to be excited. The Bears are 3-1 (and excruciatingly close to a spotless record) through a quarter of a season after a violent thrashing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and have a firm grasp on first place in the NFC North.
That is something I haven’t said in a long, long time and something I certainly did not expect to say this season given the supposed strength of their division.
For the first time all season, every single one of my four takeaways is positive. We’ll start off with the weekly tradition.
1. Khalil Mack is nothing short of unstoppable.
Forget Defensive Player of the Year. Mack is on the short list for MVP right now. If the season ended after four weeks, he’d probably be third, behind the two quarterbacks playing out of their mind right now (Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff).
Mack had a strip sack, allowed nothing in the run game, pressured whoever played quarterback constantly and directly caused an interception yet this was probably his least effective game of the season. That says nothing about how he played today; he was fantastic. He was just so ridiculously good in the first three weeks that yesterday was the worst by default.
What is even more striking about 52 in blue than his on-field play is the effect he seems to have on the rest of the team, specifically the defense. He’s elevated the confidence level and it shows in both their play and how they interact with each other. His presence allows the secondary to make more plays on the ball. It gives the interior line many more single blocks to beat. And Danny Trevathan, save for a lapse or two in Arizona, has played out of his mind and it’s no coincidence he’s shown out more with Mack here.
The defense has been beyond anything Bears fans could have possibly expected in August and it’s all thanks to Mack. The titanic outside backer makes the Bears a playoff team as long as a certain second-year quarterback can move the offense consistently. Which brings me too…
2. Trubisky finally had his breakout game.
Mitch Trubisky struggled mightily in the first three weeks and with players like Mahomes, Goff, Deshaun Watson last year, and even rookies like Baker Mayfield putting up ridiculous games, fans were starting to get antsy about when Trubisky would do the same.
Well, it happened. He threw five touchdown passes to five different wideouts in the first half, a feat only accomplished one other time: when Aaron Rodgers shoved the hearts of millions of Bears fans in a wood chipper in 2014. His most impressive throw was a touchdown to Allen Robinson, but there were plenty of other magnificent balls throughout the game.
He looked much more comfortable in Matt Nagy’s offense. For the first time since the first quarter in Green Bay, Trubisky looked like he was playing and not thinking, a line that many writers and fans used throughout the week as something he must do.
Obviously, Trubisky isn’t going to play this well every week and the secondary he shredded is a pitiful group. But his overall command of the offense and accuracy downfield offered a shining police interrogation lamp of hope for the 2018 season.
3. This is what happens when you make a conscious effort to get your two fastest players involved in the offense.
Cohen was used as the feature back instead of Jordan Howard (who is still the main back on this team, by the way. He just wasn’t part of the game plan this week and he shouldn’t complain after what happened on Sunday), and he got ample touches as a traditional back but was so much more than that. He led Chicago in receiving yardage and was virtually uncoverable by some of the most athletic linebackers in the game in Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander.
Gabriel found himself featured as the weapon he should be. He got his touches in multiple ways: a pick play at the goal line, a trick play where he intercepted a supposed toss to Cohen and went the other way with it, a couple passes downfield where he roasted DBs with his speed, and best of all, a jet sweep where Chase Daniel played running back for no reason at all.
When you get both those guys involved, they produce and it leaves open windows for the rest of the offense that weren’t available with Cohen and Gabriel dormant. Those two make Chicago’s attack so potentially deadly against any opponent because no one has two guys that can match up with somebody like that.
4. The defensive depth was tested.
With an injury to Prince Amukamara and an ejection for Akiem Hicks, the Bears had to rely on their reserves to finish the job against Tampa Bay. Kevin Toliver came in and while he wasn’t outstanding, he was not victimized nearly as often as I thought he’d be against the Bucs’ talented receiving corps. He proved that he is a more than competent backup cornerback for the rest of the season and is worth taking a look at for developing into something more.
When Hicks was kicked out, Bilal Nichols, Jonathan Bullard, and Roy Robertson-Harris stepped up in a big way. Nichols and Robertson-Harris combined for a sack of Jameis Winston and Nichols and Bullard each contributed a tackle for a big loss. If Hicks is suspended, and he very well could be, those three are perfectly capable for filling in against Miami in week Six.
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